Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Elusive Second Rank

It seems my blog co-authors have taken to heart our motto "where the taste bud matters!" Almost all the recent blog posts had something to do with food. Just to bring some variety, I'm posting this piece... recycled from my personal blog :)

Have you ever tried to deliberately score a rank in a competition which is other than your usually attained rank? I tell you, I have, and this is my story.

[This piece has been written for a narrator of the caliber of Morgan Freeman or Amitabh Bachchan. Hear that voice?]

Disclaimer: Any resemblance to any real person -- living, hospitalised, or dead -- is purely by God's own will, and I couldn't write it any other way.

In my good old school days, academics came natural to me. I happened to top the class, and get that coveted 1st Rank. Soon I felt a monotony to it, and then the fun started -- to deliberately try coming in second.

There was this girl in my class who would always come in second, and I would always hopelessly be ranked one above her, how-much-so-ever I tried not to! Of course, she wasn't trying to come second deliberately, but had she known about my intentions, she would have loved to help me.

In those days, betting wasn't a commonplace. I, however, had the good fortune of getting acquainted with a classmate, who was born to be a bookie and in the future, make his presence felt in the best known arena of all -- the Shaharjah Cricket Tournament. Let me call him, Aamir Bahaauddin Tyaagi, Aamir for short, which mind you, is a name from my imagination not Google™-able, lest I reveal his true identity.

Aamir knew that it was easy for me to secure the first rank, and hence would make it all the more interesting by raising the bets for the second rank, while keeping the odds at 1/1 for the first. Whenever I was confident that I have done so well in my class exams, or should I say so badly that I deserved nothing more than the coveted second rank, I would bet heavily. The currency involved for betting were in marbles, and I had to part with a lot of those. But that didn't stop me in trying for one final time, and then once more, and so it went on.

You might think that for someone who can come first, how difficult it would be to come in second for once. Well, let me try to explain to you the problem with coming in second deliberately, as compared to coming in first. The first rank holder's score only has a lower limit, and no higher limit. On the other hand, to come in second, you have to determine the highest score amongst others in the class, and score just about enough to not exceed that score, while ensuring that you score more than the rest. A lot of number crunching is involved. You might even get a Doctrate just for making an attempt in finding a sound mathematical formula, containing weird Greek alphabets, for coming in second.

Now, I wouldn't say I always stood first in these attempts, while it's true that I didn't come in second either. After the initial monotony of firsts, I have scored a fifth once, and a tenth too! Well, it's not that I lost my ability for coming in first, but that the parameters involved used to change every four years or less with new students rolling in my class, which made my calculations go wrong all the time. In the 6th Grade, you had to opt for a third language, and I took Sanskrit, which resulted in a new class, and a different batch of pupils. In the 9th Grade, we had to go to a new school for, the old school only had classes upto 8th, and thus put up with another new batch of students. You can consider yourself lucky if you have mastered the art of coming in second after 10 years of analysis on a static population with only a few controlled parameters changing (refer: ANOVA / DOE statistical analysis techniques), and I had to either come up with a solution in less than four years or incorporate the rules behind dynamically changing population in my calculations!

Now I have grown up and am not involved with academics, professionally speaking. But mind never stops working, especially on an unsolved Mathematical mystery. The other day, I came across on the internet a puzzle about an Arab sheikh and how he thought of distributing his wealth. Here it goes:
There was once an Arab sheikh who had two sons who were not the sharpest scimitars in the palace armory, as it were. He loved playing jokes on them to watch their reaction.

One day he told his two sons to race their camels to a distant city to see who would inherit his fortune. The rules stated that the one whose camel was slowest would be the winner.

The brothers, after wandering aimlessly for days, going slower and slower, finally ran across a wise man in the desert whom they ask for advice. After hearing the advice they jumped on their beasts and raced as fast as they could to the city. What did the wise man say to them?
I had always thought that Shaharjah, the land of the Arabs and the camels, had answers to these types of mysteries. How rightly so! If you are still wondering what the wise man said to the boys, let me not keep it from you for long. He said, "Switch your camels and try to reach the city first, thus making the others' camel which you are riding on, faster than yours!" So neat. So beautiful. So clever. Is it not?

How do we apply this wise man's logic to my problem of coming in second? For that, I would need the help of the girl who always stood second in class, whenever I stood first. Even though this is not a camel race, if you note, writing exams is no different. Switching the camels would mean switching the answersheets! Got it? Let me explain further. If I write her student roll number on my answer paper while she writes mine, we have effectively switched the camels! Now both of us would answer the exam based on our abilities, without deliberately trying to make mistakes, and ensure that she makes me get the elusive second rank, while she boasts the first! Perfecto, isnt it? So clever, yet so profoundly simple. Had I known this earlier, I would have won a lot of marbles, by Jove!

These days, whenever I attend prize distribution functions, I clap, cheer, whistle, and what not, whenever they announce for the second prize winner, while booing the first comer. People might think that I am related to the second comer, but now you know the real reason behind my actions.

[ If someone does go ahead and makes this movie, of course, after buying the credits from me, following text would now roll on the screen... ]

The Second Rank girl is now a qualified Medical Doctor, and is some big shot with a corner office in WHO headquarters at Geneva.

Aamir is now not making as much money as he used to when there were India v/s Pakistan cricket fixtures all year round in his current home location. India's decision to not send their cricket team to Shaharjah after the betting scam broke out, has not only put some breaks to his burgeoning bank balance, but also made him borrow from others in order to meet with his spouses' shopping expenses. (Note the location of the apostrophe.)

As for me, I am at home, sitting in my lavish mansion on a private island in the Pacific, writing a new movie script to get another nomination for an Academy Award! Yup, I still aim for the 2nd place!


Anonymous said...

Very interesting piece of write-up...made for good reading!

Pradnya Rakesh said...

Cool...really funny story...I assume it is a real one ;) But must acknowledge its very well written! Good Job..:)

Anonymous said...

Awesome. Do write more. Now you may want to think of switching your 1st profession of being a Software programmer with the 2nd one that of being a writter. With this switch you might win a Booker or Nobel ... which has only 1st prize; so you really have no else behind you in the 2nd position :).

Anonymous said...

This writer deserves a Baykon certificate. His write-ups have been very interesting.

Balu said...

Very nice. I generally don't read lengthy articles ... but I knew what you write would be very interesting and hence I did read it. Completely enjoyed reading it. Will wait for more.

Anonymous said...

I liked the camel story. Thinking outside the box.